‘Person of Interest’ takes a page from ‘24,’ ‘The Dark Knight’

Oct. 27, 2011 | 4:23 p.m.
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James Caviezel plays Reese, a presumed dead former-CIA agent who teams up with a mysterious billionaire to prevent violent crimes in "Person of Interest." (CBS / Warner Bros.)

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Michael Emerson plays a software genius billionaire who recruits Reese to track down potential victims and perpetrators of violent crimes and prevent them from happening. (John Paul Filo / CBS)

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Taraji P. Henson plays Carter, an NYPD detective on Reese's trail in "Person of Interest." (John Paul Filo / CBS)

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Kevin Chapman, left, plays Detective Fusco, a cop Reese has blackmailed into giving him inside information from the police department. (John Paul Filo / CBS)

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A surveillance camera captures Reese, played by Jim Caviezel, left, and Finch, played by Michael Emerson, in a scene from "Person of Interest." (Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS)

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Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson in "Person of Interest." (Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS)

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Jim Caviezel, left, and Jermaine Crawford in "Person of Interest." (Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS)

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Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson in "Person of Interest." (Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS)

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Michael Emerson, left, as Finch and James Caviezel as Reese in "Person of Interest." (Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS)

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Jim Caviezel in a scene from "Person of Interest." (Eric Leibowitz / Warner Bros.)

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Michael Emerson, left, and Jim Caviezel in "Person of Interest." (Eric Leibowitz / Warner Bros.)

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Michael Emerson, left, and Jim Caviezel in "Person of Interest." (David M. Russell / CBS)

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Detective Carter, played by Taraji P. Henson, left, and Finch, played by Michael Emerson, in "Person of Interest." (John Paul Filo / CBS)

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Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel in "Person of Interest." (Eric Liebowitz / CBS)

In his first project since co-writing “The Dark Knight Rises” with his brother Christopher Nolan, screenwriter Jonathan “Jonah” Nolan is tackling the real Gotham in “Person of Interest.” The CBS drama, set in New York City, follows a pair of vigilantes who tap into a Big Brother-style government surveillance system to prevent violent crimes from happening. “Person of Interest” has enjoyed a solid opening, drawing 13.2 million viewers in its 9 p.m. Thursday slot, and CBS announced its full-season order Tuesday. The show, produced by “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams, stars Jim Caviezel as a former CIA agent recruited by a mysterious billionaire, played by “Lost” star Michael Emerson, to track down people about to be involved in violent crimes. Hero Complex writer Noelene Clark sat down with Nolan and cast members Caviezel, Emerson and Taraji P. Henson this summer to talk about the show.

NC: A lot of people are classifying your series as pre-crime, along the lines of “Minority Report.” Do you think that’s apt?

JN: When I pitched it last year, I felt like it was five minutes in the future, and by the time we were done shooting it in New York, it felt like it was kind of right now. Sort of the ideas behind the show are becoming more and more relevant every week, every month, every year.

ME: Yeah. What at first seemed like maybe it was science fiction, turns out really to be science fact.

JN: The government has been trying to build basically exactly what we portray in the pilot for about 12 years. So the only fictional part is that they actually manage to build a version of it that works. There is a little bit of a science fiction aspect to it, but I think the part that we’re all most interested in is the part of it that’s relevant, that sort of connects to the world that’s kind of changing around us.

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Michael Emerson, left, as Finch and James Caviezel as Reese in "Person of Interest." (Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS)

NC: Has it been a big adjustment moving from the world of film to the world of television?

JN: It’s cool. You give up a lot of time. It’s a very different animal. You have to work much faster, but the tradeo-ff is — I’ve had a very good experience working in film, but as a screenwriter, writing movies, the lag is two to three years. If everything goes completely smoothly, you’re watching a movie on the screen that you wrote three years before now. And that’s cool, but you really don’t get that instant gratification. And you also have to create characters and then kind of set them aside. I’ve been lucky to work on a franchise, which means we get to go back to the characters in the Batman movies and sort of visit them again. But for the most part, when you work on a movie, you create a character, tell a complete story, and then kind of throw it away. Whereas in television, you get a chance to continue building and exploring and understanding your characters, if you’re lucky, for years.

NC: Do you know the whole story arc?

JN: Of course! One of the fun things about TV is you have to show such a huge story. To me, it felt irresponsible to go out and pitch the show without having a pretty good idea of where we were headed. But for me, and this is true of film as well as TV, it’s a collaborative art form. We get a chance to build these characters together, tell the story together, and that means a staff of 10 writers and a crew in New York of 200 people, a fantastic cast, and we kind of all get to figure this out together, which is a lot of fun. So I have some ideas, and everybody brings some ideas to the table, and we get to keep building.

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Taraji P. Henson plays Carter, an NYPD detective on Reese's trail in "Person of Interest." (John Paul Filo / CBS)

NC: Taraji, you’ve worked on procedural shows before — “Boston Legal,” “The Division.” How is this different?

TPH: This is different because when I read the script, it just didn’t seem like anything that I’ve seen on television before. Just the whole concept of Big Brother watching, that just excited me because I’m always a conspiracy theorist. It really intrigued me in that way. I wasn’t excited about going back to television, but this project was just something that really interests me. … I know it’s sort of like solving crimes, but it doesn’t feel like every cop show I’ve seen on television.

NC: Michael, how is your “Person of Interest” character, Finch, different than your “Lost” character, Ben? They seem similarly mysterious.

ME: There may be some overlapping, I suppose, but I like that Finch is a good guy, a plain and simply good guy, and one of the challenges of the part will be to — I can only make him different in the ongoing work. That’s why I’m anxious to start shooting more episodes, so that I can find those points of departure or differentiation and come up with someone that ticks differently.

JC: I was a huge fan of “Lost” and Michael’s work in “Lost,” and we talked a little about the character in the beginning, and the hallmark difference between Finch and Ben Linus is sort of that fundamental difference. There’s mystery there, there are layers that we’ll sort of peel back on the character —

JN: I’m stepping on his foot. [laughs] Stay tuned. All of our characters, there’s a fundamental kind of goodness and virtue to them, but there are layers. And there’s damage. And there are stories there that we will continue to explore.

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Michael Emerson in "Lost." (Mario Perez / ABC)

NC: Jim, we see that with your character, even in the pilot with the flashbacks to 9/11.

JC: When I was doing “G.I. Jane” in ’96, I got to be around all the Navy Seals and really stayed friends with a lot of them over the years. The real good ones, the black operators, they don’t forget a thing. That’s a great talent, but that’s also a bad thing, because they don’t ever forget anything. A lot of that perpetuates the other stuff. There’s a line in there where he says, “You’re looking for a purpose.” And I was thinking, “What would be that purpose?” And it’s justice. He’s a bully-killer. Ever since he was a child, even in high school when somebody picked a fight and always hurt the weak, well he’s that guy that destroys them. Some people will say, “vigilante,” but I saw it more like “24” meets “Bourne Identity.” I like that line, what really sums it up for me, is “I don’t particularly like killing people, but I’m very good at it.”

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Jim Caviezel in "Person of Interest." (John Paul Filo / CBS)

NC: There’s quite a bit of action. Do you do your own stunts?

JC: I did, remarkably, quite a bit of the stunts. The stunts are easy. It’s the dialogue that’s hard for me.

NC: One of the most memorable moments in the pilot has your character step onto the screen with a gigantic gun, stopping a car in the street. It was very cinematic — something we usually see in theaters, not on TV.

TJP: Exactly. That’s why I was drawn to it.

ME: It’s just dramatic.

JC: And what they’re great at. You know, we love features. We come from that world, so how do we make this? How do we put features on television? …  When you’re looking at millions of people now that have surround sound, HD systems and everything, they are spending an enormous amount of money to sit home. Go to a movie? Nah, make my popcorn here.

JN: We’re just trying to bring a little of that big-screen excitement to the TV.

NC: Speaking of the big screen, can you tell us a little about what to expect from “The Dark Knight Rises”?

JN: There’s a little team of Warner Bros. ninjas that follow me around. If I open my mouth, they’ll be like, “Quiet!” and pop! A little poison dart.

NC: How does it feel after years of working on this franchise to be almost at the end of it?

JN: It’s bittersweet. It’s been the last nine years of my life. It’s very exciting, and we’re happy to be finishing the story, but I’m going to miss that character. I’m very excited to have been building this kind of universe that we’re all putting together in New York. I think it’s very distinct from the Batman franchise, but it has a couple of elements in common, so I’m excited to be able to continue telling these stories.

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Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight." (Warner Bros.)

NC: Your Batman movies give a very gritty and dark take on Gotham. Would you say “Person of Interest” provides a similar dark, moody take on America?

JC: Did you ever see “Deja Vu”? There was a lot of feel to what he wrote in this — it was a Tony Scott film — he mentioned something earlier, science fiction to science fact. Tony Scott was talking about science fact and how that whole thing of Big Brother, it’s really right here now, and it just felt real to me when I read it. In “24,” I remember when everybody was going nuts over that show, and I read this, and I said, “Wow, this has that potential. There’s something in it.” It wasn’t trying to be that, either. It was its own thing.

JN: That show had a certain amount of grit and darkness that you hadn’t seen on TV before. I think there are aspects that this show has in common with “24,” with the Batman movies, with a handful of other things you see on television. We’re looking to tell stories that you haven’t seen a lot of on network TV. That’s where we’re going. A little bit accurate, a little bit of realism, but I’m always most interested in stories where you’re looking at the real world, and there’s kind of a level beneath it. There’s something a little more interesting happening underneath the surface that not everybody knows about.

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Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in "24." (Kelsey McNeal / Fox)

ME: It seems to me in a lot of movie and TV culture, the heroes that operate outside the law have such certainty. Like Jack Bauer. There’s never any question of his mission and means. What I’m hoping we get at it is that it’s possible to operate outside the law and be uncertain also. I would be. If I were a modern-day, high-tech vigilante, I would be thinking, “When am I going to get caught? And where do I get off? Who appointed me?” I would have some misgivings. Our show is complicated in that way.

JN: I’m always interested in stories where you take a paradigm and turn it inside out or question it, and I think that’s part of what we’re doing here. There’s a vigilante aspect to our show, but there are these characters who are very thoughtful and complicated, and they question these things. We get a chance to sort of see them breaking the genre apart and putting it back together.

— Noelene Clark


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9 Responses to ‘Person of Interest’ takes a page from ‘24,’ ‘The Dark Knight’

  1. Dora says:

    Who was the actress that played Morgan in tonight's episode?

    • hyde35 says:

      Paige Turco. She always gives the audience a great performance imho. I hope her character drops in from time to time.

      • Sandy says:

        I loved that Ms. Morgan character. At first I thought the character was played by Michelle Forbes, whom I recalled from Battlestar Galactica as admiral Helena Cain. They have a similar on-screen vibe. Loved it. More please!

  2. @mcnairwilson says:

    This is the first NO-MISS TV for me since Jack Bauer's fade to black. JC and ME are perfectly tuned for Reese and Finch. The Buaer-Bourne elements are just enough to keep us all connected. Meanwhile, the side plot of NYPD trying to unravel the mystery angel/vigilante gives one more twist to a series that is fresh, unpredictable in all but its instant and growing popularity. Jim Caviezel's reference to "Deja Vu" is spot on as it too was a gritty, naturalistic, big city (New Orleans) cop drama with a healthy dose of five-minutes-in-the-future sci-fi to keep us glued to the scree. Plus: Love the wide variety of filming equipment and techniques that we have rarely (if ever) seen in serial television. (I am currently on-the-road, directing a play and have not yet seen the show ON TV. I've watch the every episode on my MacBook Pro. It looks great. Congrats to all on the show.)

  3. artfrankmiami says:

    this is no 1 for me this year. watched the fixer episode 3 time (with commercials!) not bored at all. only revenge is still really keeping any interested and unforgettable has dropped but i still watch because Poppy makes it work.

  4. Tom Barber says:

    I had hoped that Jack Bauer and 24 would last forever. I was so disappointed when they went off and could not imagine anything that would fill the void. Well, Person of Interest has! It is, for me, the best show on TV. I love how the star characters are intent on helping people headed for mishap and danger. James Caviezel and Michael Emerson are perfect for their characters. I have turned family and friends on to the show and we all love it.

  5. watcher says:

    I even watch the reruns, I love theshow and James C is so sexy, his voice reminds me of Clint Eastwood

  6. Fablady3 says:

    It's so funny but I didn't even realize who is writing this show ( I just liked the previews), but after I saw last weeks episode of POI, something hit me where I said to myself "wow, when Jim Caviezel comes on the screen, I get the same excitement I feel when I see Batman ( Dark Knight) come on screen! I love love love this show!

  7. Andre Bruwer says:

    I apologize in advance for not sticking to the initial topic of discussion but … is it just me or does Jim Caviezel totally have a superhero look about him? See these pics of him next to the bat he just has something..

    Perhaps Dr. Strange, sorcerer supreme? I recon he could be perfect for that role if it was ever to be.

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